Casual & contract workers have rights.
All workers, whether permanent or casual, have the same right to expect a healthy and safe workplace.
WorkSafe Victoria has produced Guidance Note to assist employers to understand and comply with their duties towards casual workers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (2004). This is a summary of that Guidance Note.
Casual workers face greater risks
Because of the circumstances under which casual employees are employed, they often face greater OHS risks: for example they may not be properly trained, have little experience/knowledge of the hazards in the workplace and the risks these pose. Casual workers may not know what rights they have under OHS and other legislation. Sometimes, because their employment is not secure, they may not feel confident to raise issues of concern.
The conditions faced by casual workers have been looked at in a number of forums, eg:
Federal Parliament's publication on the impacts of COVID-19 on casual workers last year
- Federal Parliament's STANDING COMMITTEE ON EMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND WORKFORCE
From the Productivity Commission:
- a 2013 staff working paper: Forms of Work in Australia
Employers' legal obligations for casual workers
An employer must provide and maintain as far as practicable a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This applies to all employees, including casual and labour hire employees.
WorkSafe's advice to the employer is: "In general terms, treat every casual worker as if they were one of your full-time employees."
In September 2021, the Victorian government amended the OHS Act to ensure that there is no doubt that employers and labour hire companies have clear duties to labour hire workers.
the OHS Act has been amended to
In changes which will come into effect on 22 March 2022, the Act will address a gap in protection for labour hire workers. The definitions of “employer” and “employee” will be extended to ensure that labour hire workers are considered employees of both the host employer and the labour hire agency. Labour hire agencies and host employers must consult, coordinate and cooperate with each other, so far as is reasonably practicable, where they share OHS duties to labour hire workers. Here:
consultation means that duty holders who share duties towards labour hire workers will exchange information that allows the duty holders to jointly manage health and safety
cooperation means that duty holders should implement health and safety arrangements identified as being necessary during the consultation process. It also means that duty holders will respond to reasonable requests from other duty holders and not obstruct communication with them
coordination means that duty holders work together so that each person can meet their duties without leaving gaps in health and safety
Steps the employer should take
WorkSafe recommends that the employer do a number of things to ensure that they are complying with their legal obligations with regard to the employment of casual/labour hire workers:
Prior to employment of any casual worker. These include ensuring that casual workers' duties are clearly defined and that they have the necessary skills and qualifications; ensuring casuals can participate in designated work groups; and that the necessary information, instruction and training is provided.
Prior commencement of work.These include ensuring that any equipment the workers bring with them meets health and safety standards; introducing the workers to the person responsible for OHS in their area; and ensuring that the workers understand any OHS training, policies and procedures before they commence work.
After work has commenced. The employer must make sure, among other things, that casual workers are properly supervised; that arrangements for the on-going identification and assessment of risks are in place; that refresher training is provided.
Incident management. If an incident occurs at the workplace involving a casual worker, the employer must inform the agency and also inform WorkSafe if the incident is "notifiable" under the Incident Notification provisions of the 2004 OHS Act. The employer should conduct an investigation of the incident, develop and implement measures to prevent re-occurence, and allow the agency to participate.
- Co-operation with the on-hire agency. It is very important that an employer co-operate with the on-hire agency to ensure that all parties meet their legal obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The Guidance Note then outlines the duties of employers under Sections 21 and 22 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
- The section on Law on this site and also the section Labour Hire
- information on This Working Life: What are my rights as a casual worker?
- The WorkSafe webpage on Labour Hire.
- A number of interesting articles on casual and precarious work can be found on The Conversation website.
From the global confederation of unions, IndustriALL, which represents 50 million workers in 140 countries in the mining, energy and manufacturing sectors, an international campaign: STOP Precarious Work
Last amended September 2021